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Mass. hospitals welcome National Guard members, cancel non-urgent procedures as cases rise

The Baker administration has instructed hospitals coping with difficult patient capacity circumstances to postpone or cancel non-urgent procedures as Massachusetts deals with challenges caused by the latest surge in COVID cases.

As of Monday, Massachusetts hospitals that are more than 85% full must stop performing non-urgent surgeries if they require an overnight stay.

State health data show the seven-day average of hospitalizations due to the virus was nearly 1,600 patients statewide. That figure has more than doubled in the last month.

Public health officials hope the directive will free up inpatient beds and preserve already stretched staffing resources.

Gov. Charlie Baker also deployed several hundred members of the Massachusetts National Guard to local hospitals Monday to help relieve pressure on hospital staff as cases climb.

An initial deployment of up to 300 Guard members are scheduled to help some of the state's largest and most acclaimed medical facilities, including Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, to regional facilities such as Addison Gilbert Hospital in Gloucester and Milford Regional Medical Center, according to a list provided by the state Executive Office of Health and Human Services.

Nearly 20 Guard members received orientation Monday morning before being deployed to several hospitals operated by Worcester-based UMass Memorial Health, system spokesperson Debora Spano said.

Dr. Melisa Lai-Becker, who runs the emergency department at Cambridge Health Alliance's Everett hospital, said the Guard members will take on tasks like sitting with behavioral health patients, allowing nurses and doctors to handle other care.

"Because we really need to have everyone working at the top of their license while we work through the number of quarantines, isolations, staff callouts," she said.

She said the emergency room is currently running at 130% capacity, with just 70% of its regular staffing levels for nurses.

Material from The Associated Press was also used in this report.

This article was originally published on December 27, 2021.

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